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Spills of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals on Agricultural Topsoil

Natural Gas Drilling Site in Haynesville Shale, Louisiana; Photo by Daniel Foster

Drilling for natural gas in the Haynesville shale (Louisiana) is endangering agricultural land (Photo: Daniel Foster | wikimedia)

Hydraulic fracturing frequently occurs on agricultural land. Yet, the extent of sorption, transformation, and interactions among the numerous organic frac fluid and oil and gas wastewater constituents upon environmental release is hardly known. This study aimed to advance our current understanding of processes that control the environmental fate and toxicity of commonly used hydraulic fracturing chemicals.
The study’s findings highlight the necessity to consider co-contaminant effects of frac fluid additives and oil and gas wastewater constituents in agricultural soils in order to fully understand their human health impacts, likelihood for crop uptake, and potential for groundwater contamination.

Key findings:

  • Polyethylene glycol surfactants were completely biodegraded in agricultural topsoil within 42 to 71 days, but their transformation was impeded in the presence of the biocide glutaraldehyde and completely inhibited by salt at concentrations typical for oil and gas wastewater.
  • At the same time, aqueous glutaraldehyde concentrations decreased due to sorption to soil, and were completely biodegraded within 33 to 57 days.
  • While no aqueous removal of polyacrylamide friction reducer was observed over a period of six months, it cross-linked with glutaraldehyde, further lowering the biocide’s aqueous concentration.

McLaughlin MC, Borch T, Blotevogel J
Spills of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals on Agricultural Topsoil: Biodegradation, Sorption, and Co-Contaminant Interactions
Environ Sci Technol. 2016 May 12. [Epub ahead of print]


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